The Sunday Mail
In many economies, emphasis is increasingly being placed on the profession of product development.
Product development is commonly defined as the job of designing, creating and eventually marketing new products or services to demanding consumers.
While efficiency and scale have traditionally been the envied competitive advantages reserved for big companies and multi-nationals, levelled distribution of technology and social infrastructure around the world has raised the value of product or service development.
One can look at the success of M-Pesa in Kenya as an example.
What is fascinating about product development, and why it is particularly lucrative for those who excel at it, is the vast margin of subjectivity open to its practitioners.
Consider successful products of recent decades and study the divergent views once held by team members working on the product’s development.
For instance, accounts have been written and oral stories told on moments when Steve Jobs, Jonathan Ives and Tony Fadell held different views, sometimes begrudgingly, in the development of Apple products such as the iPhone and iPod.
The best products almost always come out of team projects.
However, as in the aforementioned team’s case, because of subjectivity, inevitable tension between developers exist.
It is my intention to focus on the difference of views in product development and how best to utilise this commonly assumed challenge as an advantage towards creating the best possible market offerings in Zimbabwe!
As economic agents are not availed a lot of job opportunities in our economy, many of us are pushed towards venturing into business on the back of our own innovation and creativity.
Placed in a fitting context then, our economy has positioned economic agents to be product or service developers who have to engage their minds towards questioning what exactly the market demands.
In my experiences and observation, aspiring economic agents are best placed for success through creating teams or partnerships founded on mutual passions.
For instance, there are many people interested in media, agriculture, finance, entertainment, landscaping and manufacturing.
Perhaps I can suggest as rightfully evidenced by successful start-ups in Zimbabwe that collaborating with other people of similar passion creates a firm grounding on which to launch respective ventures.
Granted, these partnerships should be organic, not forced by necessity.
When partnerships are formed, followed by organisational structure and equity allocation, product or service development then takes place.
Indeed, due to the subjectivity presented within this task, tension and conflict arise.
The decision on what product or service to offer the market can easily breed frustrating disagreements which break partnerships.
There are some approaches on how to utilise this desirable tension and conflict to a company’s advantage.
Firstly, focus on intended consumer outcomes and not on the product itself.
A recent article written by L.E.K. Consulting in the Harvard Business Review titled, “Manufacturing Companies Need to Sell Outcomes, Not Products”, presents a new approach on product and service development which focuses on the inquisition of the desired outcome for the consumer — a nuance to focusing on the desired product or service itself.
A consumer is looking for an outcome.
That outcome could be making a financial transaction around infrastructure dependent on the consumer’s lifestyle (financial services), grasping a certain topic’s fundamental issues (media), or supplying a certain crop based on the ripeness, size and chemical composition of the demanding consumer (agriculture).
The desired outcomes should influence the product or service development.
The best products or services are the ones which leave the consumer feeling a high level of utility, this is a measure of outcome.
For instance, Econet Wireless is doing well in tracing desired outcomes by consumers who are shifting from voice to data.
The desired outcome by mobile consumers is now prolonged information availability, not communication with a counterpart as traditionally was.
Thus, what is going on in the mobile market is that data is offering information platforms that are of greater desired outcome than traditional phone calls; the shift here is well beyond just simple costs of calls!
For mobile operators, the premium demand by consumers is now information as the outcome, not communication.
In Zimbabwe, the subjectivity in identifying desired outcomes often fuels conflict amongst development partners as usually many of us are very well-trained on product or service discipline.
I am sure that many innovators and creative minds in Zimbabwe are tired of hearing the phrase “this is how it’s done” or “this is how we do things here”.
This is a cultural product or service development flaw.
The only consistent in product or service development should be evolving outcomes demanded by consumers.
Most disagreements between collaborators on how to offer a product or service are because of our egos based on our ill-groomed skills and knowledge in delivering a traditional product or service.
Focusing on outcomes not product or services will ease conflict and disagreement!
Secondly, partners should appreciate each other’s diverse perspectives.
As just highlighted, many economic agents venturing out in our economy retain traditional perspectives towards product or service development.
Thus, many start-ups would benefit from added patience and understanding of this background.
In fact, traditionally groomed agents possess organisational discipline that is essential in business continuity.
Many innovators lack the experience of actually working in a formal work environment that requires respecting organisational structure and more rigid work processes.
As such, an appreciation of the diversity of strengths and weaknesses can be harnessed to create new companies that not only thrive on product or service development, but can sustain market competitiveness based on traditional formal experience.
A well-designed product or service might hit with the market, but it cannot last without a formalised structure of continuity. Moreover, financiers are more likely to back ideas that are contained within formally-experienced structures.
Many new companies offering innovative products or services have not lasted in Zimbabwe, not through a fault of the innovation, but because many entrepreneurs undervalue organisational structure.
Thirdly, new partners must be patient with their products or services.
There is a lot of frustration in trying out how to offer products and services to market.
Business models should be flexible and can change a number of times before they succeed.
For example, a food delivery service can have different fates based on pricing rewards matched with time of orders.
A simple discount on orders made before 12:30pm can be the difference between success and failure.
New businesses must be flexible and patient to try out different models on which to offer their product or service.
A bonus consideration in product or service development is to compete.
There is no monopoly on ideas, especially in our economy today.
We have a significant deficit of product and service development in Zimbabwe.
Although many of our companies suffer from structural issues like ease of business, responsive institutions and infrastructure deficit, we have not done ourselves good by paying little mind to product or service development.
I do believe that many new industries and large-scale companies can be created if we encouraged a culture of product or service development.
Most economic agents in Zimbabwe are looking out for arbitrage opportunities, not enough are looking out for new products and services that enhance consumer outcomes.